Massachusetts Federal Public Defenders: Please Defend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev With a Plea of Not Guilty
We believe Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev deserves a fair trial in which he can make a full and frank defense against charges related to using a "weapon of mass destruction", and in which the evidence can be properly scrutinized before a court of law. Therefore, we strongly urge his defense team to enter a plea of not guilty. Regardless of whether our confidence in an acquittal is merited, a plea bargain would guarantee jail for life without chance of parole or benefit of appeal, and therefore, it would be against his best interests.
- State of Massachusetts
51 Sleeper Street, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02210
Massachusetts Federal Public Defenders
- Judy Clarke
- Miriam Conrad
- Timothy Watkins
- William Fick
Federal Public Defender
William W. Fick
Assistant Federal Public Defender
Timothy G. Watkins
Assistant Federal Public Defender
Consulting Defense Attorney
RE: THE DEFENSE OF DZHOKHAR TSARNAEV
Dear Ms. Conrad, Ms. Clarke, Mr. Fick, and Mr. Watkins:
When the proceedings against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev commence at the end of this month, we, the undersigned, respectfully urge you to enter a plea of not guilty on his behalf.
We understand that there are times when counsel deems it preferable to make avoiding the death penalty the primary consideration. We also freely acknowledge that our position is based on publicly accessible information. However, it is supplemented by communication with his family and friends. So, with all due respect to his learned counsel, we feel strongly that a plea bargain is not warranted for Mr. Tsarnaev at the outset (and hopefully not at any juncture), and is not in his best interest. We also feel that a fair trial is very much in the public’s interest, and thus of mutual benefit to Mr. Tsarnaev and the public.
We are not convinced that the federal government will be able to make a successful case against Mr. Tsarnaev. Our understanding is that to establish guilt on criminal charges, a court must find that: a. the defendant actually committed the act of the offences, and b. the defendant had sufficient motive to commit said offences. After sorting fact from fiction (esp. unattributed “leaks”), we believe that the evidence on both counts is very weak.
First, we cannot find any rational basis to conclude that Mr. Tsarnaev had a bona fide motive to commit or take part in the bombings of April 15, or to engage in any act of terrorism or mass destruction, in retaliation for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as has been suggested by the FBI and public officials, or for any reason. Put simply, Mr. Tsarnaev does not fit the FBI or CIA profile of a terrorist.
On the contrary: what emerges from the statements of friends, teachers, coaches, and family, who speak with conviction, is a picture of a young man very much immersed in American culture. He seems to be well regarded by the adults in his life, who describe him as a polite and well adjusted young man. He got along well with members of his wrestling team at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School; he was pursuing a professional degree at the university of Massachusetts; he was enjoying many friendships at college; and, significantly, he was known to be excited about being grant US citizenship. While his Islamic faith may “link” him in the minds of some to others of that faith who may engage in violent acts, it is a very weak link at best; in and of itself, a person’s faith is hardly sufficient to establish motive to commit a crime. And though his family background is Chechen, Mr. Tsarnaev himself never lived in Chechnya. At the same time, he was very likely aware that the US, his adoptive country, has supported that nation’s struggle under Russian rule for many years. And, while Mr. Tsarnaev lived in and has ties to other parts of Russia, by all indications, he firmly chose America to be his home.
Secondly, try as we might, we cannot find any convincing proof that Mr. Tsarnaev actually committed the offences charged in relation to the bombing. While he may have been present on the day it occurred, along with his brother, none of the photographic material seems to establish his actual guilt. Indeed, some of what the FBI has presented to the public so far is extremely dubious. Even in terms of identifying Mr. Tsarnaev, on the FBI’s own web page, for instance, one photo purports to show Mr. Tsarnaev wearing a white baseball cap with the number 3 on it. In another photo purporting to show him on the same day, the cap clearly bears the number 7. Are they photos of the same person, and if so, why would the number be different? Furthermore, to date, no witness has said they actually saw Mr. Tsarnaev – or his brother - making, setting down, or detonating an actual bomb. As a backpack is not transparent, it cannot be proven without a reasonable doubt that his backpack actually contained an explosive device.
All other “evidence” appears to be circumstantial at best, such as the remnants of fireworks allegedly found in a dorm room. Given the relatively small quantity found, and the knowledge that young people often play around with fireworks, including Mr. Tsarnaev, this evidence does not seem sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. Tsarnaev used it to set off a bomb on April 15. If the government wishes to rely on his connection to his brother Tamerlan to establish his guilt, the fact is that Tamerlan’s guilt has not been proven, nor is it certain whether it will be. Other allegations regarding a robbery, a shooting of a policeman, a carjacking, and most recently, a “note” purportedly written on the inside of a boat, have been disproved or remain so shrouded in confusion and contradiction that we are confident that they can be easily set aside by the defense. Thus far, no fingerprints, DNA, or other material evidence has been reported, and if this continues to be the case, we are very optimistic about Mr. Tsarnaev’s chances – and hope you are too.
We feel that it would be tantamount to an expression of bad faith in the justice system for young Mr. Tsarnaev to forego a trial, accept a life sentence, and essentially trade away what was, until recently, a promising future. Arguably, the task of assembling an unbiased, competent jury will be very difficult, even if the trial is moved to another part of the state, due to the massive publicity, most of it biased. In our view, however, the majority of allegations in the media are unsubstantiated, implausible, and/or irrelevant to the case. A significant portion of the public may well share our opinion. Nevertheless, we appreciate that the question of an impartial jury is a serious concern. Yet, if Mr. Tsarnaev – and you as his counsel – would trust in the system, should a not guilty plea result in a conviction, he would still be afforded the option of an appeal. If he accepted a plea bargain, his only chance to gain the right to appeal – other than the discovery of new evidence, perhaps – would be to claim that he had incompetent counsel. Neither of these possibilities seems likely, however.
Finally, while your client’s fate is rightly your sole concern, due to the serious nature of the charges, we strongly believe it is in the public interest for this case to be tried in open court. Few cases are more important to the public – national and global – interest than those that are said to arise from an act of terrorism. Without the benefit of a trial, the evidence would never subjected to full and proper scrutiny. Both the veracity of the accusations, and the facts of the events that took place between April 15 and April 19, 2013, would remain forever in doubt in many people’s minds. Such doubt could fester and lead to some very undesirable consequences in the future – consequences better left unstated, perhaps, but nevertheless worthy of consideration.
Therefore, we sincerely hope that you will defend Mr. Tsarnaev’s innocence in good faith, using your professional skill and every means available, secure in the belief that the truth will prevail, and in the knowledge that you have our full support.
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